Master Gardeners start new demonstration garden

PHOTO PROVIDED From left are Master Gardeners Karen Elias, Candy Gore, Deb Liguori, Ginny Counsil, Mary Ann Clark, Lynda Cridge, Carole Livingston and Deb Burrows at the Clinton County Fairgrounds where they are creating a new demonstration garden.

Autumn is here, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and what are the Clinton County Master Gardeners doing? Starting a new garden! No, we haven’t completely lost track of time. There’s a good reason for starting now, but first let me provide a little background.

In September, we were asked if the Master Gardeners could take responsibility for cleaning up and maintaining some very overgrown areas at the Clinton County Fairgrounds. The short answer to that question was “No,” because Penn State Master Gardener Program policies only allow Master Gardeners to engage in activities that are educational in nature, like conducting workshops, answering questions, etc. But there had to be a way that we could help the Fair Association out while at the same time meeting the requirements of our educational mission.

To make a long story short, we came up with a plan to create a demonstration garden at the fairgrounds that will qualify for certification as a Pollinator Friendly Garden. We can use the garden to help the public learn more about the value of native plants, things they can do to help pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and other insects survive, and how to do it in a way that is attractive in both residential and public spaces.

The Clinton County Fairgrounds are an ideal location for a demonstration garden because of the large number of people who come out to the fair, Farmers’ Market, and other activities held at the fairgrounds near Mackeyville.

In addition to focusing on pollinators, we can utilize the new garden to demonstrate environmentally-friendly gardening methods and offer a variety of educational programs.

So, why are we starting now? Because we need to improve the thin layer of clay soil at the site. That clay soil sits atop plenty of limestone, and just getting a shovel into the ground can be a challenge. To develop a thicker layer of healthy soil, we’re using a method called “sheet composting,” which means adding layers of cardboard, manure and mulch which will slowly decompose into compost over the next several months.  Sheet composting doesn’t require a whole lot of digging, but it does require time, so by starting now, the new beds should be ready for planting in the spring.

Over the winter, Clinton County Master Gardeners will review the requirements for certification as a Pollinator-Friendly Garden, which means they will carefully select plants to ensure that there are early, mid and late-season blooms to provide a continuous source of food. They will plan to incorporate milkweed and other “host” plants, shrubs, and trees into the design which will provide monarchs and other butterflies with a suitable place to lay their eggs and serve as a food source for the caterpillars which will eventually develop into butterflies. Caterpillars often have very specific nutritional requirements, and we want to make certain they have plenty to eat. We also plan to create habitat areas and provide water sources, and to make sure the area stays free of pesticides.

To enhance the value of the new site as a teaching tool, Master Gardeners will design and post signs throughout the garden to explain various features and identify plants.

As the garden develops we will continue to post photos and progress updates on our Penn State Master Gardeners of Clinton County Facebook site. We hope readers will take a look and post comments or questions. We’ll do our best to respond to questions quickly.

A project like this requires a lot of cooperation, and we already have many people to thank. It’s been a pleasure working with Fair Association volunteers, and we appreciate their help and the nice large piles of manure they provided. Manure is a very valuable commodity to Master Gardeners! We are grateful for the guidance we received from our fellow Master Gardeners in Centre County, who have shared their expertise and offered to work with us to make our new garden a satellite site of the beautiful Snetsinger Butterfly Garden in State College. We want to thank Fred Ream of Norfolk Southern and Alan Caperella of TC Transport for their help with materials, and Arnie Burrows for volunteering his time and tractor to help us remove the rocks and put the layers in place.

As coordinator for the Clinton County Master Gardener Program, it’s my pleasure to acknowledge the excellent work done by Master Gardeners Mary Ann Clark, Ginny Counsil, Lynda Cridge, Karen Elias, Candy Gore, Deb Liguori, Carole Livingston at the Fairgrounds on Oct. 29.


Debra Burrows, PhD, is a retired Penn State Extension educator. She can be reached at